By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – In a letter to state legislators, Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Charlie Graddick said the agency’s goal of hiring up to 138 new parole officers in the next three years has been hindered by the agency’s allocation in the recently approved 2021 General Fund budget.
“We are in need of more officers as we work to reduce caseloads,” Graddick said in a press release.
There are currently around 300 parole officers who oversee more than 27,000 probationers and parolees in Alabama, according to data released by the bureau.
Graddick said nine new officers began work last month.
Gov. Kay Ivey approved a General Fund budget last month which included a $21 million decrease in funding for the bureau, taking its funding in fiscal year 2020 from $48.8 million down to $27.8 million for 2021.
Senate General Fund Budget chairman Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said during committee discussions in May that left-over funds the bureau has will be used to replace whatever funding they don’t receive from lawmakers. In January Graddick asked the Senate Ways and Means General Fund committee for an $11 million increase in appropriations from the fiscal year 2020 budget. At the time, Graddick said the bureau had about $25 million in leftover funds from the previous administration.
In his letter on Thursday though, Graddick said that carryover funds have already been spent or are encumbered, “with only a relatively small percentage to use in 2021, which we planned for more probation officers and specialists to assist them.”
Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, told ADN that he agrees that more officers need to be hired but says evidence that the bureau has spent the carried over funds needs to be shown to lawmakers first.
“I think if they can show that they’re spending the money we already sent them for personnel like it was supposed to be then yes they should,” Ward said. “They do need the money, they are a key part of the criminal justice process.
“For him to tell the Legislature that he needed $40 million over the next two years, when in fact they’ve been rolling over money the last three years and haven’t spent it, I’m not sure why you would appropriate more money when they haven’t spent what they’ve already received,” Ward told ADN.
Graddick, appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey last year, said the agency is “making significant progress.”
“We have been able to acquire much-needed equipment for the officers in the field, improve quite a few deplorable facilities, improve our training in all areas, update and/or write new policies to fix antiquated or non-existent Rules and Regulations,” Graddick wrote.
Graddick said that those changes would not have been possible without the left over funds from the previous administration.
An estimate on how much of those left over funds are still available to the bureau wasn’t made immediately available to ADN. The bureau’s communications director Terry Abbott told ADN that the bureau is “hopeful that the legislature will restore needed funding in the future.”
Albritton on Friday said that before lawmakers increase funding for the agency, they want to see a plan for its spending and for preparing inmates for release.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know how to handle the basic functions of life and that’s what we have to teach these people before we turn them back out on the street,” Albritton said.
Last year, Albritton and other lawmakers were critical of Lawmakers were also critical about Graddick’s effort to end the agency’s involvement at LifeTech training center in Thomasville. It teaches job skills, including construction and maintenance, to recently paroled individuals and courses take several weeks. Graddick said the residential facility should be under the Department of Corrections’ control.
The recidivism rate of former inmates who attended LifeTech is 13%, less than half of the statewide recidivism rate.
Citing COVID-19 concerns, parolees at the center were sent home earlier this spring. Albritton said his understanding is that pardons and paroles doesn’t plan to re-open the center in his district.
Albritton said the state needs more programs like LifeTech, not fewer.
“Whether it’s LifeTech or something else, in my district or somewhere else … we need a plan once they’re in prison for the next phase.”
Included in the letter was a summary of probation and parole populations in the state as of April 30, 2020. There are currently 20,619 active offenders undergoing probation which makes up 79% of the population the bureau oversees. Those serving parole only totals to 6,078 active offenders, 16% of the population the bureau oversees.
Parole hearings restarted on May 18 after the bureau paused operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the resumption of parole hearings, the three-member board has taken up 158 cases and granted parole for 15 of them as of Thursday.